Sunday, July 24, 2016

Unconditional Forgiveness

Over 3,500 years ago, a man of great faith, Abraham, was talking/praying with God about why the innocent suffer with the wicked.  Abraham almost appears brazen, but that indicates the closeness of his relationship with God.

In the Gospel according to Luke, the disciples want to know how Jesus talks to His heavenly Father. Jesus talks to God like a son or daughter with a parent, like a close friend with another close friend. Jesus urges us to be persistent in prayer, to go on seeking, even though our heavenly Father already knows what we need.

There's a pattern to prayer which Jesus taught us in the Our Father.  Here's a paraphrase showing the pattern:
“Our Father (because we are sons and daughters of God, family, heirs);
Your name be honored and reverenced;
May Your kingdom of truth and peace and justice and freedom permeate everyone;
And may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Satisfy our basic needs: food, health, home, a respectable livelihood, a peaceful society.
Forgive us for the things we do wrong as we forgive those who wrong us.
And protect us from evils that will jeopardize our relationship with God.

Reflecting upon prayer, and upon God's forgiveness, helps us to live in relationship with God forever.
When I think of examples of forgiveness, I recall Nelson Mandela, who spent 19 years as a political prisoner on Robben Island, off Cape Town, South Africa. That he overcame hardship, that he saw the “glory of God” not only in fellow prisoners but also in his jailers, was remarkable.

When Mandela was released from prison, he asked all Africans to seek not vengeance, but to seek reconciliation and forgiveness from one another.  That he was able to do this after years of hardship and cruelty was even more remarkable.

Perhaps in these days of unrest and heated campaigns, Mandela’s example can be an inspiration.

We are all sinners, Pope Francis reminds us. Sin means being “out of sync” in our relationships with God and our fellow humans, missing the mark in the pursuit of our authentic self.

It's interesting that the people who really upset Jesus were not sinners, but hypocrites, those who saw no sense of a need for repentance, those who were smug about who they were.

But Jesus offered forgiveness aplenty to those who admitted they needed it.  Amazing things are possible.  A powerful poem by Myra Welch describes an old violin seen as having little value, and then the way someone dusts it off and tunes the strings and plays a magnificent melody.

The poem concludes:

Many a person with life out of tune
And battered and scarred with sin
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,
Much like the old violin.

But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of the soul, and the change that’s wrought
by the touch of the Master’s hand.”

May the touch of the Master's forgiving hand change us.

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